[(essay date 2011) In the following essay, Moudileno examines the distinctions between NDiaye and other postcolonial francophone authors, particularly in regard to her “soft voice” and “self-effacing persona.”]
It is now a given in humanities scholarship that there are historical, cultural, and systemic connections between globalization and postcolonialism. More recently, globalization has also been invoked to help examine the evolution of contemporary celebrity culture, with scholars noting their shared modalities of pervasiveness, expansion, circulation, and appeal to popular consumership.1 In light of these two sets of established connections, additional questions remain: If indeed celebrity culture is increasingly “ideologically bound up with the conditions of global capitalism” (Barry, 251), what might be the nature of the third potential connection, between postcolonial and celebrity cultures? Where and how do these come into contact, if indeed at all? What kinds of celebrities have postcolonial cultures manufactured? And finally, what are some of the issues at stake when it comes to their status and visibility in global cultures today?
Africa provides a compelling site for the exploration of these issues. Pairing “celebrity” and “Africa” brings to mind all kinds of associations, including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Namibia, Madonna in Malawi, Oprah Winfrey in South Africa, or George Clooney in Darfur. In this version of “Global Hollywood” the image of Africa remains, however, that of an endless reservoir of possibilities for adventure, adoption, charity, redemption, and career enhancement for Western travelers. Some have evoked the idea of “celebrity colonialism,”2 while others have pointed to the absence of “indigenous celebrities” in such representations: “The Africa created by the American celebrity machine, while not populated by spear chucking savages, is also completely bereft of doctors, lawyers, politicians, musicians or actors. Indeed, African celebrities are nowhere to be seen in these campaigns.”3 One way to offset such a perspective would be to acknowledge the existence of African “celebrities.” There are of course many Africans who have achieved various degrees of local, regional, national, or, for that matter, international visibility in the arts and sciences, as well as in both elite and popular culture. Insufficient attention has been paid to this dimension, and more studies are clearly needed in order to foreground “indigenous celebrities” and their sociological status in national and transnational contexts.
Another way to think about the articulation of celebrity and the postcolonial would be to examine the complex process of recognition in Western literary circles, and in turn to explore how a given postcolonial identity may determine the value of certain individuals and contribute (or not) to the construction of fame. Exemplary of this approach is Graham Huggan’s book The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins.4 For Huggan, the current success of postcolonial studies in Western intellectual circles demands that we interrogate further the forces that have transformed marginality into an asset, thus conferring value to both the postcolonial text and its author. Huggan asks, “To what degree is the recognition—the cultural capital—of postcolonial writing bound up in a system...